Long review: Destiny’s Captive
Author: Beverly Jenkins, 2020
Disclaimer: links are affiliate
The below contains very minor spoilers (like, ‘in this scene she did this’, kind of spoiler, not ‘Darth is Luke’s dad’ level spoiler).
Content/Trigger warning(s): rape (off-page historic, but it’s a detailed recount), PTSD, abduction, abuse
Noah Yates fully believes in the joys of a happy family and a good wife. But that’s not the life for him. But then the unthinkable happens . . . he finds himself literally tied down. To a bed. By a woman. And Pilar isn’t just an ordinary woman. She’s descended from pirates. And after giving him one of the worst nights of his life, she steals his ship! Now Noah is on the hunt, and he’ll stop at nothing to find this extraordinary woman . . . and make her his.
— Abridged publisher synopsis
I am usually a one sitting reader. It takes me about 3 or 4 hours to devour an Avon Historical. But this book took me nearly two months.
Is saying this a good way to start a review? No. But this context is necessary.
Because for absolutely no reason to do with the content of the book, I was having a shitty time and I couldn’t shake that well enough to be able to focus for any solid amount of time, so I read this in chunks over a stretched period.
My reading experience of Destiny’s Captive was choppier than the Caribbean sea that Pilar and Noah sailed. But I still really enjoyed it.
Reading is such a subjective thing, and even people like me who take a great amount of pride (too much pride, some might say) in our ability to unpick and examine our takes and reactions, fundamentally how you are doing at the time alters your reading experience whether you’re conscious of it or not.
Despite the fact that my review notes are the written equivalent of throwing a plate of scrambled eggs in the air and trying to catch it all with your mouth, I’m reviewing it anyway. Because it’s good book and I want to say as much. But bear with, because my review might make you feel slightly seasick with the way I jump points.
Here’s actual footage of me trying to make my notes for this one work:
The first half of Destiny’s Captive convinced me that this needed to be a movie. It is intensely dramatic, and our female protagonist Pilar is so brave and the male protag Naoh is so simmering. Plus SHIPS and THEFTS and ESCAPE and VILLIANS and DANGER and SURVIVAL.
You might be picking this up, but I really love a high-drama historical romance. And Ms Bev, as always, DELIVERS.
Pilar was my favourite part of this book. She was fierce and brilliant and brave, and also, my very favourite thing in a female historical protagonist — she initiated a physical altercation and won. A SWORD FIGHT NO LESS.
In the scene in question, she just straight up just ripped a sword off the wall and went for it. (@RomanceAtAGlance talk about this delightful moment in their podcast). I love women sword fighting I can’t get enough of it.
So the protags have a swordfight in this — yes, you read that right! They cross rapiers with EACH OTHER — and it gets a little sexy but mostly she wants to fillet him, and it was my fave swordfight scene I’ve read in a historical for a long time.
How dramatic! How charged! Slice his ego to shreds Pilar!
As with any Ms Bev book, I learned so much. The way she weaves in her research and context is second to none. I didn’t know that much about the Cuban rebels and history of fighting for independence, and I found myself going down many, many Wikipedia holes. Including that I was mistaken in thinking that segregated trains in the US were an ‘ages ago’ thing. Not so ages — I had fallen into a binary way of thinking about today’s racism and historical racism but it’s just consistent racism the whole way — there wasn’t any intermission. And those horrible cattle cars, which in this book Noah and Pilar had to travel in, are not far enough behind us. I also didn’t know these segregation laws varied by state — given that my whole country is about the surface area of Colorado maybe it’s not surprising I sometimes forget about the scale situation for America.
This got me thinking about how much of my historical knowledge comes to me embedded in ‘pop culture texts’.
At school in Aotearoa NZ in the millenium years, my curriculum included our country’s colonisation and Māori history, (for our parents’ generation it was just verbal wankfests about how great England “the motherland” was), with a sprinking of British and Russian and American history if you wanted it — which I didn’t because my school’s history teachers were all very boring. So despite how much shit my teachers heaped on ‘popular movies’ and low art etc etc, I really did rely on movies and books for broader global history ed.
Like, I know this movie is not good, but for example — everything I know about California’s fight for independence came from the first Antonio Banderas Zorro movie (another great swordfight). Anything I really know about Latin, Central or North American history came from books or movies or Hamilton.
This all just reiterates the need for movies, art, and books like this, and the need for Own Voices creators to be in charge of them — so that we don’t get the same old white lens and the same old white stories.
Anyway. I’ve digressed a bit. I knew that the minute I didn’t have an Instagram character limit to keep my review under, I was going to get seduced by all kinds of tangents.
The first half of this book was my catnip in every single way. I loved Pilar’s badassery, I loved her confidence and her loyalty, and I also loved Noah’s reaction when he was bested by her (this isn’t a spoiler — that she steals his ship is the premise. Even though I’m sure we all agree piracy and gun running is bad, in Ms Bev’s context it all works).
I was very emotionally vested in Pilar’s heroic political and societal defiance and when it all went to crap for her — detailed dramatically and achingly in Bev’s exquisitely beautiful prose — I cried. Like, a lot.
For me, once the book got off the sea I struggled to adapt to the change. I was primed for more sea adventure and instead I had domesticity. There were great parts of this — the family dynamic and the HEA for Noah’s mum in particular — but I wasn’t ready for Pilar to swap her sword for fashion. I felt like Pilar was still true to herself in her new setting (she still didn’t take shit, and was quick to reattach her sword to her skirt) but I lost track of her goals a bit and the quiet ranch life initially felt discordant to me.
But upon further reflection, maybe that’s because I live a privileged life and it’s fine for me to wish for ships and danger in a book bc excitement, but actually what Pilar deserved was peace and tranquility on land? That’s a valid as fuck goal. She seemed happy, and its her (fictional) life, and as I say, she was consistent in her badassery. So maybe I just felt this way because I was an emotional wreck wanting her to skewer villians the whole time.
Anyways, when Pilar threatened a sexist jerk and all the action ramped back up at the peak moment, it felt more full circle, and so I finished this book awash with the same kind of high-seas dramatic joy I started with.
“You just insulted my skill, my gender, and my purse and you expect me to simply titter and go away? Get a sword, and if your classically trained arse has to go home to retrieve one, I will wait.”Pilar
It was a roller coaster of a reading experience, but I enjoyed this book, although I regret I didn’t read the Destiny series in order — because I wanted ships and I wanted them immediately! — and I don’t know if reading in order is a lesson I will ever learn, I’m too mood-readery.
BUT through Destiny’s Captive I learned that the female protag in book 2, Billie, sounds like an absolute legend, so straight to the TBR it is for book 2, Destiny’s Surrender.
Thanks for bearing with this hot mess of a review. I am very confident that this review did not do the book justice. But it’s a good book, and honestly I’m proud of myself for just getting some words on page.
For other people’s better takes on this book, I recommend
Definitely read Jite @Now_Booking‘s review of Destiny’s Captive on Instagram. There’s no more thoughtful and expressive romance reviewer than Jite. There’s just not.
Also the Romance At a Glance Destiny’s Captive podcast episode, which I mentioned earlier. I’ve only listened to the promo extract and read the synops so far, because I wanted to get my word salad review on a page before I lost it; but from what I’ve heard/read I know we agree about the swordfight.
For more at sea, I recommend
Normally, give me a trope and I’ll give you twenty. But I can’t think of any books at sea I really loved, despite the fact I’m convinced that it’s one of my favourite tropes!
I can think of one I didn’t like: which was The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo, which I link to only because I know that I was one of the few on Instagram who didn’t like this. Most people loved it. But when I read it a few years ago, I just felt like the male protagonist, known as The Rook, wanted a medal for not being a C Word. And I just have a higher bar than that for romance protagonists, tbh. Even historical pirates.
If you have any really great sea romances, please drop a comment! I need them!